He’s not really kooky, but Eddie Murphy’s reworking of Jerry Lewis’ 1963 film The Nutty Professor is an apt and comic update of the Jekyll/Hyde formula. It’s Murphy’s most assured work in some time.
Eschewing the revenge-of-the-nerds theme of the Lewis original, the new version casts its title hero as a blimp-size pedagogue, Sherman Klump (Eddie Murphy) is a good-hearted, slightly absent-minded tub of lard conducting molecular research experiments at a fictional university. His goal is to find a solution that will make you thin, and he’s making significant strides towards that end with his lab hamsters.
But the sedentary life that is his custom gets shaken with the arrival of Carla (Jada Pinkett), a comely grad student impressed by his work and seemingly undaunted by his girth. Sherman’s own self-image is at a decided low. The college dean (Larry Miller) has threatened to kill him if he alienates a big-bucks donor (James Coburn), and his rambunctious, unschooled family goads him endlessly about his job and bachelorhood.
The sober side of pic stands in sharp contrast to fitfully related sequences featuring the Klump brood. Murphy plays both of Sherman’s parents, his grandma and brother. They are staccatos of well-observed, painfully funny jibes that perk up the proceedings.
What’s left of the supporting cast is also strong. Miller is at his obsequious best, and Pinkett, again unrecognizable from any previous role, demonstrates that her range ranks her among the most versatile young performers in movies.
1996: Best Make-up (Matthew W. Mungle, Deborah La Mia Denaver).